Monday, March 22, 2010

chance of blurries

Movies 7, the place formerly known as the "dollar theater" now charges $2 a ticket, which is still pretty good. While we waited for the show to start Sunday night, my wife and I saw an odd combination of ancient slides advertising the concessions, outdated E! fun facts about movies from the '90s, and some Coca-Cola sponsored trivia questions about movies that haven't come out yet. The "pre-show entertainment" included a commercial for Coke Zero, which made me want some. Unfortunately, that theater doesn't sell any. I had to settle for a Diet Coke.

My wife and I saw "Up in the Air" which had great performances, a good story and a plot twist that I was glad I didn't know about. It didn't matter that the print was a little out of focus. The fact that they even use prints was surprising to me. All the other Carmike Cinemas I've visited have digital projection in every screening room.

The trailers were worse, in that they were noticeably less focused than the main feature. I decided that I could skip "Shutter Island" and "The Road." The trailer for the latter had vertical streaks through the whole thing. The most ridiculous trailer was for the blockbuster film "Avatar." I can understand why people flocked to see it in IMAX and 3-D; it's a technological wonder. But why would anyone watch an out-of-focus print of it? The plot isn't strong enough on its own to support three hours of entertainment.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010


The Academy Awards are just wrapping up as I write this. Thankfully, "Avatar" did not win Best Picture as many thought it might when the nominations were first announced. The momentum for "The Hurt Locker" has been unstoppable lately and it wasn't too surprising that it claimed the top trophy.

They say that to truly be the best picture, a film should also win the award for best director. Kathryn Bigelow proved that old adage true tonight. Another old saying is that before it goes on the stage, it has to be on the page. In my opinion, the best picture winner should also have picked up one of the two screenwriting awards earlier in the night. "The Hurt Locker" won for Original Screenplay. "Avatar" wasn't even nominated in a writing category.

As has become my new favorite pastime during award shows and major sporting events, I enjoyed reading and posting comments on Twitter. Here are a few things I wrote during the Oscars tonight:
  • I'm glad Sandra Bullock won. Meryl Streep should have won last year for "Doubt." I can't even remember who beat her.
  • In Memoriam, a/k/a the awkward smatterings of applause
  • Woohoo! My favorite part! In memoriam!!
  • Sarah Jessica Parker as a clothes horse? Unfortunate choice of words.
  • All night the live audio at the Oscars has been bugging me. Is something wrong with their stage mic?
  • Wait, you're telling me that Avatar was NOT nominated for best adapted screenplay based on the movie "Pocahontas" by Disney?
  • My wife & I are considering paying the $6 for "A Serious Man" via On Demand
  • What award did Joy Behar just win? I'm confused.
  • "Logorama" looks like one of those maps you get from the car rental agency or the motel when you go on vacation.
  • If each death from 2009 gets this much time, it's going to be the longest "in memoriam" segment ever.
  • I saw it, I'm just saying Academy is over its SciFi quota RT @clydetombaugh if you don't think "District 9" deserved Best Picture nod...
  • They have the guy from "Star Trek," which should have been nominated, introducing the film that likely stole Trek's spot.
  • Best picture of the year, "Up," just won its award.
  • Squirrel!
  • NPH steals the Oscar gig!!
  • Why don't they have TV pros asking the questions? RT @MarkNagi Kathy Ireland throwing softball questions is like Verne interviewing Tebow

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

come along, kiddie-winkies

Before the Oscars each year, my wife and I try to see as many of the nominated films as we can. Some years we see a lot, some years hardly any. We haven't made it to very many this year. Of the best three movies I saw in 2009, only two were nominated for best picture. I liked "Up," "The Blind Side" and "Star Trek." I'm not the only person who thinks "Star Trek" was robbed of a nomination, especially since the category was unnecessarily inflated to ten films. I thought "Julie & Julia" and "District 9" were good but not better than "Star Trek."

Last Sunday, we went to see "The Lovely Bones." Supporting actor nominee Stanley Tucci was beyond creepy as the perverted serial killer. However the movie itself is not good. As I wrote on Twitter, it would have been better with a little less "Lovely" and a little more "Bones" or "CSI" for that matter. The CGI sequences of the girl stuck between heaven and earth drag on and make the movie seem way longer than it is.

We intended to go to the movies again today. We checked Fandango and found that the films we most wanted to see had already left the theaters. It occurred to us that it would be cheaper to stay home and check the On Demand menu for an HD movie. Although I get a discount on my Comcast subscription, new movies like "Inglourious Basterds" cost me $5.99, same as anybody else. It was worth it. We would have spent more than that at the concession stand alone.

I don't get why Christoph Waltz is nominated for best supporting actor instead of lead actor. His character, Hans Landa, is central to the entire movie. He is the connecting link between the multiple story lines and gets plenty of screen time. They must have thought he couldn't beat the best actor nominees, which is a shame. Landa reminded me of a scary character from my youth. His evil ways had some similarity to the Child Catcher in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

don't lose your head

It's important to back up your words with actions. That's why my wife and I did our part to support the transition of Taylor Swift from singer to actress. We braved the crowds at the Regal West Town Mall 9 to see "Valentine's Day" on Valentine's Day. It turns out that a lot of the people who were there came to watch the Daytona 500 on a theater screen while enjoying pizza and beer.

The movie wasn't as bad as I feared. I had heard that it was basically a two-hour "Love Boat" episode. It finished stronger than it started, which will help generate positive word-of-mouth. The biggest disappointment was the story line involving Julia Roberts. I felt like something got edited out, such as a plausible explanation for her quick trip to Los Angeles. I expected her to at least be on her way to a wedding or funeral. My favorite story threads were those with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Biel and yes, Taylor Swift.

When the movie let out, we walked through the mall in search of a kiosk offering free samples of jAVERDE flavored coffee. My friend Lissa has suggested several times that I try it. Of the four I tasted, Shell Shock was the best. The clerk told me that they plan to open a store across from Food City on Middlebrook Pike in a space vacated by Bear Creek Coffee.

What's Valentine's Day without chocolate? Earlier in the day, my wife surprised me with a heart-shaped box of hand-dipped truffles that she bought from Belle's Sweet Boutique. The proprietor, Ann Douglas, is an acquaintance of hers. The candies are truffle-licious.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

tell me why

Congratulations to Brent Thompson and his wife who had their baby yesterday. Brent is co-host of Eleven O'clock Rock, the daily streaming video show that emanates from Market Square.

The baby's birth didn't sneak up on them. When I was a guest on the show in December, Brent and co-host Lauren Lazarus said I could fill in for him one day while he was on paternity leave. Turns out they weren't just being nice. I got the call from Jessie Greene, one of the directors, asking if I could be the guest co-host on Monday.

They were still in the process of booking guest for the show. In addition to a musical performer, they wanted somebody for the "Movie Monday" segment. I unabashedly offered up "Fish Bait" director Jeff Joslin, who will join us via Skype at 11:27 a.m.

If you can arrange your schedule to be downtown between 11 a.m. and 12 noon on Monday, c'mon by and get some food at The Lunchbox, which shares space with the studio. Otherwise you can watch "Eleven O'clock Rock" at

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

laugh factory

On the trip to bring him back to school, one of the many things my son and I talked about was my blog entry about "Ed Gein: The Musical." I was pleased that the film's producers had seen my post and left a comment. They liked my idea for a parody song called "You: Suede Shoes."

I explained to my son that I didn't feel particularly funny when I was writing that post. Most of it was fairly standard but I thought it needed some jokes to close it out. Since comedy comes in threes, all I had to do was make up three quick punchlines. To do so, I used a comedy technique that I call "one from column A and one from column B."

In this case, column A would be a list of easily recognizable Elvis songs. I've been to Graceland and worked at an oldies station, so I knew plenty. If I didn't, a list is only a click away at Wikipedia. Column B would be anything Gein-related, like body parts or heinous crimes. Then it's just a matter of finding matches.

I suspect that certain movie companies in the San Fernando Valley use the same basic concept to name their movies. Last month, I used it to make up a bunch of "Avatar" jokes on Twitter.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

sneak preview

The compelling independent film "That Evening Sun" opened in Cleveland and Kansas City yesterday. Next Friday it opens in Knoxville, Nashville, Atlanta, Athens, Charlotte and Sarasota. I watched a screener DVD last weekend and loved it.

On the public affairs radio show that airs tomorrow morning in Knoxville, I have another enjoyable conversation with Larsen Jay. His company produced the film, which has been nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards. Larsen told me he hopes for more nominations during award season, especially for Hal Holbrook who appears in his first film role as lead actor.

If you won't be awake at 6:30 a.m. to hear it on the radio, go ahead and listen online at your convenience.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

jailhouse rock

Not everyone has a wife as understanding as mine. I briefly mentioned that one of the Christmas gifts she gave me was a book about killers called "Human Monsters" by David Everitt. One of the six evildoers whose pictures were chosen for the cover was Ed Gein, who is credited as being the inspiration for the character of Norman Bates in "Psycho." Each nutjob gets about two or three pages in the book. The brief chapter on Gein alludes to the psychological damage inflicted on him by his mother. However Gein's crimes were more reminiscent of Jame Gumb in "Silence of the Lambs."

As I write this, my wife is at a Knoxville Choral Society rehearsal. She also sings with the choir at All Saints Church. In high school, she played Laurey in the student production of "Oklahoma!" I bring up her interest in music because of a news story out of Menasha, Wisconsin. The small town was the location of the debut screenings of "Ed Gein: The Musical." According to the follow-up article, the songs are parodies of well-known tunes. For example, "All Cooked Up" is a spoof of "All Shook Up."

I wonder if there are some Elvis songs they could use in a sequel. It would be great to hear "Love Me Tenderized," "Good Luck Arm" and "You: Suede Shoes."

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Saturday, January 09, 2010


The screener DVD I watched today gave me a feeling similar to one I had years ago after watching another then-unknown movie. Executive Producer Larsen Jay sent me a copy of "That Evening Sun" before my upcoming interview with him about the film. Back in 1997, a publicist sent me a screener disc of "Sling Blade," hoping for some airtime on KLOS.

Like "Sling Blade," "That Evening Sun" takes place
in the South. Both movies have a despicable character, although Ray McKinnon's Lonzo Choat isn't quite as evil as Dwight Yoakam's Doyle Hargraves. The story, which is set in Tennessee, has a plot development that I didn't see coming. I hope to have time before the interview to watch the movie again with the benefit of hindsight. I was extremely surprised to discover that I had seen a clean-shaven McKinnon as the high school coach in "The Blind Side."

I was also surprised to learn that Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter appear together on the big screen for the first time in "That Evening Sun." The cast consists mostly of Southerners with one notable exception. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska does an outstanding job as Pamela Choat. I guess Australia is pretty far south. Mia is about to become a lot more famous as the title character in "Alice in Wonderland." For her audition, she learned a Southern accent by watching clips of "Coal Miner's Daughter" on YouTube.

One of my favorite characters is Thurl Chessor, played by an unrecognizable Barry Corbin. I was sorry to see a recent article about Corbin that said he filed for bankruptcy this past week.

"That Evening Sun" won several film festival awards including a special jury award and an audience choice award at South by Southwest. Many more moviegoers get a chance to see it over the next month as the film gets a theatrical run in fourteen cities. It opens in Cleveland and Kansas City on January 15. Knoxville, Nashville, Atlanta, Athens, Charlotte and Sarasota get the movie on January 22. It goes to Bismark on January 29 and Williamsburg on February 8. Greenville, Santa Fe and San Rafael get it on February 12, while Boise viewers can see it on February 19. Updated listings can be found on the movie's Facebook page.

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Monday, December 28, 2009


Somebody needs to tell James Cameron that two and a half hours is too long for a cartoon, even a fancy-looking one like his "Avatar." Yet, I was disappointed that he cut it off right before we got to see the Ewok Na'vi celebration at the end. Just because it took him twelve years to make it, doesn't mean we should have to take all day to watch it.

The excessive running time didn't seem to hamper the crowds at the Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18 today. Because the 3:20 p.m. IMAX screening was sold out, my family and I went to a regular 3D show at 3:50. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't pay the extra $4.25 per ticket. I had to struggle not to fall asleep during the early scenes on Pandora. The excitement picks up toward the end.

The environmentalist subtext had a save-the-rain-forest feel to it. Rich Hailey discusses the obvious parallels to Native Americans with a surprising twist on his blog. None of that matter to me. After two hours, all I could think about was visiting the lavatar.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

I'm on a boat

One of the first things Dr. Bill Bass asked during his lecture aboard the Volunteer Princess was whether anyone in the audience had seen "The Blind Side." He hasn't but knew the movie has a scene that mentions dead bodies in Neyland Stadium. In the film Kathy Bates' character frightens Michael Oher by misrepresenting the UT forensic anthropology program. She tells him that there are body parts buried under Shields-Watkins Field. In reality, the bones of 7,000 individuals are stored in cardboard boxes in the anthropology department offices in the recesses of the stadium's structure. The body donors were reduced to skeletons across the river at the Body Farm before taking up residence in the stadium. Other than that one scene, the movie is amazingly fantastic.

The purpose of the book signing cruise was to help raise funds for the Dr. William M. Bass Building Fund. I attended as a guest of the Bone Zones team that organizes Jefferson Bass events.

The tag line for the presentation was "when your days end, our day begins." Dr. Bass told us about the history of the Body Farm, the life cycle of the blow-fly and the four stages of decomposition: fresh, bloat, decay and dry. A familiar face popped up on screen during the slide show. I saw pictures of the same man decomposing when I took the FBI Citizens Academy class on forensics. I whispered to the lady next to me to keep an eye on the screen during the bloat stage. At that point the dead man looked a lot like John Goodman.

I have interviewed Dr. Bass several times and heard many of his forensic anecdotes. A new one on me was the story of a victim in Morgan County. On the way back to Knoxville with the body in the back of the vehicle, Dr. Bass and his team stopped off at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. When they returned to the parking lot, their car was surrounded by a cloud of flies.

Dr. Bass' good friend, Dr. Al Hazari of the chemistry department, is mentioned on page two-hundred-and-something of "Death's Acre." The Bone Zones crew had the great idea to get him to autograph that page. As he signed a stack of books, he talked about the Forensic Chemistry Summer Camp for Middle Schoolers that he runs every June. So many of the parents were interested that he added a spring class for Adults on Thursday nights in April.

Speaking of the Bone Zones crew, I was amused by their use of artificial joints that had been recovered from corpses. The artificial hips were paperweights and the top part of an artificial knee made for a great business card holder.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009


For the second year in a row I bought a Christmas ornament sight unseen. My wife and I didn't get a souvenir from Lake Winnipesaukee during our trip there in July. We buy ornaments when we find ones we like but we don't go too far out of our way to look.

Last year I persuaded a sales clerk in Branson to describe some ornaments to me. I picked one and had it shipped here. Earlier this week I called The Christmas Loft and asked if they had what I wanted. The clerk described a porcelain piece made by Barlow Designs that sounded just about perfect. It arrived yesterday with plenty of time to spare before we begin decorating.

In other Lake Winnipesaukee news, I may finally get around to watching "What About Bob?" Although filmed in Virginia, the story is set at the New Hampshire lake. It will be shown on Starz Comedy this coming Friday. My DVR is set.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

live like you were Mayan

The preposterous new movie "2012" has some good parts. However I am baffled about why they put the worst scenes in the trailer. Surely you've seen the limo racing just ahead of crumbling streets or the plane dodging falling buildings and the 10 Freeway. Those sequences reminded me of the old "Back to the Future" ride at Universal Studios.

Willing suspension of disbelief is required for an audience to accept a work of fiction. I was fine with the big picture stuff about the inside of our planet melting and the earth's crust shifting. I liked their take on the government's secret mission for the survival of the species. It would have been nice to see more of their plans to save civilization. All I got were brief cameos by famous artworks and some zoo animals.

What almost ruined the movie completely were the many, many narrow escapes by John Cusack's character. He launches a limo through a collapsing building, among other implausible events. Some small details are equally irksome. Although the movie is set three years in the future and even has the year 2012 as its title, the filmmakers forgot about the digital TV transition of 2009. There are several shots of televisions with the type of analog static that was eliminated by the switch.

I wondered if the producers have a real problem with two of my former homes, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. As the trailer shows, they destroy both cities on film. They also show the Vatican demolished in a way that must have made the crew of "Angels & Demons" jealous.

As for the good, Woody Harrelson steals every scene he is in. He plays the crazy host of a conspiracy-theory radio show who has all the answers about the world's impending doom. I wish the syndicated overnight show on the local talk station was 1% as interesting as Woody.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

shiver me timbers

"60 Minutes" had an interesting story on movie piracy on Sunday night. The report shows how the bad guys sneak video cameras into movie theatres, often hiding them in strollers or diaper bags and using their families to help avoid suspicion. Even here in Knoxville, a security team at advance promotional screenings prohibits audience members from bringing cell phones with cameras into the theatre.

The video pirates sit in the back row where their cameras pick up crowd noises and the silhouettes of people in front. Leslie Stahl asked why anyone would buy a DVD with such poor quality. An expert responded that buyers are not quality-conscious and that they want to pay very little for their entertainment.

In addition to bad DVDs, the pirates are distributing movies online via BitTorrent. The Internet file-sharing brings to mind the problems the music industry faced when Napster first came on the scene. Back then, they would overcharge consumers for albums on CD when the fans actually wanted singles. iTunes came along and dropped the price of a hit song to 99¢ and people gladly paid.

For a time, the movie studios got it right. While a music CD had filler songs we didn't want, DVDs were packed with fancy extras that added value. Plus, the price of a cool DVD was about the same as the price of a lame CD. Now they are trying to get us to buy the same movies we already have in a new, Blu-ray Disc format. They also jerk us around by adding or changing the extra features and releasing new "collector's editions" or "director's cuts."

I suspect that the studios and theatres will use piracy as an excuse to raise ticket prices yet again. What would happen if the studios dropped the price of admission to be the same or less than the cost of a pirated DVD? It would put the pirates out of business and have movie fans lined up at the multiplex.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

rockabilly bob

When Jeff Joslin showed us a rough cut of "Fish Bait" during a break from our reshoots in May, I was concerned about my performance. As I mentioned in one of the DVD extras, it sounded like I was using my "outside voice" during the scenes inside a car. Fortunately for me, most of those scenes were reshot.

I was relieved when I saw the movie last week. The editing and soundtrack music made a big difference. I got an email from a woman who attended the screening on Friday night at Patrick Sullivan's with her visiting sisters. They didn't buy a DVD at the bar but now want to get one. Jeff Joslin has set up a PayPal account and a page on the "Fish Bait" site where they (and you) can purchase one now, should you be so inclined.

In addition to the "Fish Bait" theme by Jeffrey Joslin, the soundtrack features two songs from Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters. I first learned of Billy Bob's musical ability while I was working at KLOS. He would appear regularly on the Mark & Brian show in the late '90s to promote his movies. He was on the show one day and heard that rockabilly legend Carl Perkins would be interviewed an hour or two later. Billy Bob asked if he could stick around and see Carl. He did and ended up playing snare drum as Carl sang "Matchbox." We used the performance as a track on the "You Had to Be There!" CD, which hit stores only two months before Carl died.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

belly of a whiskered beast

The recent death of Vic Mizzy had many TV critics reminiscing about the good old days of TV theme songs. I saw one website with a list of the best current themes, which included some of my favorites, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Office" and "Dexter."

At the screenings of the no-budget horror film "Fish Bait" over the weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a theme song over the closing credits. Jeffrey Joslin, son of director Jeff Joslin, is a singer-songwriter based in Murfreesboro. Jeffrey appears in the film, entertaining at a party scene. For the end credits, he composed a song called "Fish Bait" that mentions the fictional Fear Hollow Marina and the big catfish my character hopes to catch.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

scene of the crime

The audience watching "Fish Bait" at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort surprised me. They laughed at different parts of the movie than the audience at Patrick Sullivan's did the night before. The folks at the saloon responded well to the scenes where four of us from Einstein Simplified were driving and talking. They've seen us do that on stage for years. The people on the boat dock responded well to the mishaps we encountered on the water. While the Knoxville crowd said "ewww" to a quick shot of a floating dead fish, the Speedwell viewers said nothing.

The staff at Flat Hollow went all out to celebrate the movie we filmed there last year. They made some large posters and redid the menu in their restaurant to include items like Chum, Chicken Parts and Fried Fungus. The restaurant was converted into a movie theatre for the night. Enough boaters and marina regulars showed up to warrant showing the film twice.

After the screenings, the cast members in attendance were asked to autograph several DVDs at the sales counter. While the others were using the Sharpie markers, Dave Snow and I amused each other with some tea candles. When all was finished, the cast and crew raised a toast on board one of the two houseboats where we would spend the night. Coincidentally, my wife and I slept aboard the White Lightning. This morning I woke up to a lovely view of the fall foliage.

After breakfast, the remaining cast and crew posed for a photo in front of The Lady, the decrepit houseboat that we used in the movie. I was wearing my new FBI Citizens Academy hat, which we joked now stood for "Fish Bait Inspector." The Lady looks even worse than she did last year. Some family members of the man who used to own the boat came to the screening last night. They were a little chagrined that the boat their relative lost to foreclosure was used to represent all that is janky. Some of the other audience members pointed out that shots of particularly redneckish houseboats were filmed downriver in Union County, not in their nice part of Norris Lake.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

one down, two to go

The laughter from the first audience to see "Fish Bait" gave me a big sigh of relief. As the screening time approached last night, I was nervous about how it would go over. A sizable crowd filled the upper room at Patrick Sullivan's to watch the no-budget comedic horror film that features the members of Einstein Simplified.

The first thing I saw after climbing the stairs at the saloon was a table where DVDs were available for sale. I hope my kids will pretend to be surprised this Christmas. I'll need one for myself too, as a souvenir of one of the best weekends of my life. Before the screening, director Jeff Joslin asked the cast members present to come forward. During the movie, I couldn't resist taking a picture of myself on screen. You know you would have done the same thing if it were you.

Erin Donovan of WBIR gave our little project a nice publicity hit on Live at Five at Four yesterday. I was especially thrilled by the kind reaction of Russell Biven and Beth Haynes who said, "c'mon Frank Murphy!" after the report.

Tonight my wife and I will head up to Flat Hollow Marina & Resort for another screening. Flat Hollow is where we shot the movie last October and did some reshoots in May. The marina staff is thinking that they may have enough people there to show the movie twice, once around 7:00 p.m. when the Vols game ends and again around 9:00 p.m. Gary Farwick and Benny Green said so when they took to the Lafollette airwaves yesterday to promote the movie.

By the way, thanks to Frank Scott for name-checking me in Part two.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

in the brook

It's "Fish Bait" time in Tennessee. The no-budget horror movie featuring the members of Einstein Simplified will have its world premiere this weekend. We're screening it on Friday night at Patrick Sullivan's and on Saturday night at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort. Tickets are $5 at the door.

Erin Donovan from "Live at Five at Four" was kind enough to give us a little publicity for the film. She interviewed Jeff Joslin and me at Volunteer Landing for a story that should air Friday. A moment of potential karma occurred while Erin was interviewing Jeff. Larsen Jay of Doublejay Creative walked by on his way to lunch with some business associates. Erin stopped the interview so that Jeff could meet Larsen.

After I got home from the interview, Jeff emailed me a photo of the DVD cover. "Fish Bait" DVDs and soundtrack CDs will be available for sale at the screenings and eventually via The soundtrack has music from Billy Bob Thornton and Tommy Shaw.

Just got my first look at the Fish Bait DVD cover! It seems so real now.

The Lafollette Press published an article about "Fish Bait" in Thursday's paper. Earlier in the week, a showbiz blog ran a nice feature on actress Patrice Bunch. When Erin Donovan's piece is posted on, I will put a link to it here.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

back to back, belly to belly

Back to back weekends in Virginia kept me from seeing "Zombieland" sooner. I finally got around to it this past weekend. My wife wanted to go to a movie so badly that she was willing to sit through my first choice of films even though she didn't really want to see it. I think she almost bailed out after the first few minutes. I had promised her more yucks and less yucky. Once we got past the gory opening sequence, the comedy, or should I say zomedy, kicked in.

Fortunately no one spoiled the celebrity cameo appearance for me and I won't spoil it for you, even though the appropriate amount of time has already passed. The Wikipedia page for the movie does give away the surprise. However, I'm pretty sure this publicity photo from Columbia Pictures does not..

(l to r) Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin star in Columbia Pictures' comedy ZOMBIELAND. © 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.  All rights reserved.

The Wikipedia entry for actor Jesse Eisenberg says that his mother worked as a clown. If that's true, it gives layers of psychological meaning to Jesse's clown encounters in the movie.

Jesse and Emma Stone make a cute couple and the audience naturally roots for them to get together. It seems that the two of them, along with Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin are the only four humans left on earth. But if Jesse and Emma are together, it leaves another combination that is too creepy to contemplate.

I read that the filmmakers are interested in making several "Zombieland" sequels and maybe even turning it into a television series. Their first priority should be to write in a potential love interest for Woody.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

take the bait

"Fish Bait" director Jeff Joslin was burning up the phone, text and email lines from New York today. He had already made arrangements for a cast and crew screening of his low-budget horror film at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort on October 24. Today's mission was to add a Knoxville screening the night before.

Jeff was able to get the "great room" at Patrick Sullivan's, a location chosen because it is the home turf of Einstein Simplified. Most of the troupe members appear in "Fish Bait." Admission to the October 23 screening will be $5 with the money going to defray some of the costs of making the film. In addition to the movie, there will be live music. I was thinking it might also be fun to play a few improv games for the amusement of our regulars.

Please help us spread the word to get the tickets sold. Put something on your Facebook or your Twitter. You can either retweet like Berry Sensei did or write your own message. Best of all, you can show up yourself.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

tick tock tober

In a way, I'm glad I got the flu when I did. It was a shame to miss several events over the weekend but it would have been worse if I had gotten sick a week or a month later. My October will be exceptionally busy.

The excitement starts later this week when I start an eight-week class at the FBI Citizens Academy. On one October weekend, we will take a field trip to the firing range. My uncle served in the FBI for many years. He and I will have a lot to talk about when I travel to Norfolk for a family wedding on another October weekend.

I was happy that my work schedule will allow me to emcee a great event in Virginia on October 10th. My friend Maureen is organizing the Ride for the Cure at her horse farm in Middleburg. Three celebrities I know have donated items to the silent auction. Thanks go to Jimmy Kimmel, Susan Olsen and Richard Cheese. By the way, Susan tells me that she already mailed off an autographed book to the auction before her son's cat used her last four books (including my copy) as a litter box.

I've already written about my plans to attend the screening of "Fish Bait" at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort on October 24. We are also going to attempt to participate in "Thrill the World," the worldwide "Thriller" dance. Director Jeff Joslin emailed me today to say that he is working on lining up a venue for a screening and party in Knoxville on Friday the 23rd.

With all this activity, there has to be something I will miss. Because of my commitment to the FBI Citizens Academy and because my wife will be singing at a wedding, we cannot attend her college reunion weekend at James Madison University. One of our favorite bands from our college days is reuniting for the event. The Skip Castro Band is playing a gig called "Boogie at Midlife."

But wait, there's more. I'm still undecided about whether or not I will attend the Knoxville Snuggie Pub Crawl on October 17th. What do you think? Obviously, I have the uniform of the day.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

high pasta system

Most of the people at the preview screening of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" were there with their children. My wife and I wanted to see it despite the fact that our kids are hundreds of miles away.

The adorable Anna Farris, who was so good in "My Super-Ex Girlfriend" and "The House Bunny," does a great job as the voice of weather reporter Sam Sparks. Mr. T plays the police chief who looks exactly like, uh... Mr. T, except that he has hair where Mr. T doesn't and a bald stripe down the middle of his head where the real Mr. T has a Mohawk.

Some of the other voices are recognizable as "Saturday Night Live" cast members. Andy Samberg plays a man whose only claim to fame is the TV commercial he starred in as a baby. Flint Lockwood, the scientist who invents the machine that turns water into food, is voiced by Bill Hader. Two names surprised me when they turned up in the credits. I never would have guessed that Benjamin Bratt played Manny the cameraman or that James Caan played Flint's dad, Tim.

USA Today ran a great illustrated feature the other day. It compared images from the movie with similar pictures in the 1978 children's book that inspired the film. Unfortunately, the online version of the story shows only one of pictures.

"Cloudy" was in 3-D, which didn't do all that much for me. I wanted to take the glasses off but the movie is blurry without them. The story is fun and doesn't need the special effect to hold the viewer's attention. I saw a feature on "Access Hollywood" that showed Anna Farris eating real cheeseburgers while recording Sam's dialogue. It made watching that scene all the more enjoyable. "Cloudy" isn't perfect but it's good enough for me.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

fishy, campy

The big news in East Tennessee has been the announcement of a highly anticipated movie premiere, with some of the actors in attendance. Yes, "Fish Bait" will be shown on October 24th. In other movie news, two of the stars of "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" will be in Knoxville on November 17th.

Jeff Joslin has been working out the details for the "Fish Bait" screening at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort in Campbell County. I was one of several members of Einstein Simplified involved in the filming at Flat Hollow last October. We filmed some additional scenes in May.

The date of the premiere means I will have to decline an invitation I received from Sharky at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. The costumed mascot had asked me to come to Gatlinburg and do the "Thriller" dance on the 24th. They plan to close the street and participate in "Thrill the World," a worldwide simultaneous group dance which is an attempt at a Guinness World Record. Not wanting to miss out, I decided to organize a "Thriller" dance at Flat Hollow that night. Now all I have to do is learn the dance.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

in an octopus's garden

Turkey Creek felt more like a theme park or aquarium on Monday. I went to an advance screening of "Under the Sea 3D," which opened this morning. The film has already been showing at other IMAX theatres, many of which are located at science museums or aquariums.

The filmmakers spent thousands of hours underwater to get 40 minutes of footage, most of which seemed to be about cuttlefish. The "masters of camouflage" were screen hogs. The only thing I really knew about cuttlefish prior to this was that my sister had a parakeet named Gladstone who gnawed on a cuttlebone.

There were some shots of cute sea lions and a cameo by a great white shark but it was the sea snakes and the eels that stole the show, partly because they got the best musical score while they were briefly on screen. One kid starting crying when a frogfish ate a smaller fish that had just escaped another predator.

The obligatory global warming message was palatable. Jim Carrey's voiceover was the medicine and the pretty pictures were the spoonful of sugar. Not so pleasant was the cover version of the Ringo Starr song used for the film's close. Betsy Pickle and Wayne Bledsoe, who were seated in the same row as me, both expressed their dislike of the song as we were leaving the theatre.

According to Fandango, tickets for "Under the Sea 3D" cost $14.75, the same as for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The IMAX Experience." Perhaps they can justify the price because the 40-minute fish movie is longer than the 12-minute 3D portion of "Harry Potter." When Harry arrives at the Burrow, three red symbols appear on screen telling you to remove your 3D glasses for the remaining 141 minutes.

Despite the crying kid, "Under the Sea" is intended to be a family film. Oddly the showtimes for Wednesday and Thursday are 11:20 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 2:10 p.m. Maybe they forgot that school started Monday in Knox County. I suppose they could be going after the field trip crowd.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

prawn shop

The trailer and television ads did not make me want to see "District 9." Instead it was the Entertainment Weekly story that motivated me to get tickets to a preview screening. The magazine cover called it "the must-see movie of the summer."

Security personnel had to turn people away from the packed theatre. The only trailer before our screening was for "Zombieland," which looks like a lot of fun. Then again, I laughed at "Night of the Living Dead."

The people next to me left about an hour into the film. An usher later told me that they weren't the only ones. About thirty people left, some complaining that the cinéma vérité style gave them motion sickness. The filmmakers wanted the science fiction plot to be believable. One person I know left early because his last row seat was uncomfortable and his back hurt. He plans to go back to see the rest.

Another person I know stayed to the end but didn't like the shaky camera or the gory scenes. My son and I reacted differently. We said "ohh" in mock horror every time something gross splattered on the camera lens. My son said it might be his favorite movie of the summer. I liked it too but wouldn't rank it above "Star Trek" or "Up." Come to think of it, I also really enjoyed "The Proposal" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and "Julie & Julia." It's been a good year for movies.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

down by the schoolyard

It was a Julie, Julie and Julia weekend for my wife and me. On Saturday night we laughed a lot at the very funny Julie Scoggins. She performed at Side Splitters Comedy Club. It would be well worth your time to see her show the next time she's in town.

On Sunday, we saw the terrific new movie "Julie & Julia." I really enjoy watching Amy Adams in just about anything. One of my family's favorite films is her first, "Drop Dead Gorgeous." The real Julie Powell's blog is still online. If you had the time, you could go back to the beginning and read the whole thing.

Once again, it was loads of fun to hear Meryl Streep's voice. Certain syllables rang especially true. The only thing missing for me was the John Morris theme song I remember from later episodes of "The French Chef." The theme music used in the movie was the same as in a black and white 1964 episode that PBS has posted online. They had time for Dan Aykroyd's memorable "Saturday Night Live" parody but not the music I wanted to hear.

Julia Child came to KLOS once. Around that time, we had a string of food experts on as guests on the Mark & Brian show and I was looking for ways to set their segments apart. When Debbi Fields came in, I had her book publicist send along a food stylist who set up little Pyrex dishes with various ingredients. While she was being interviewed, Mrs. Fields mixed together a batch of cookie dough. Emeril Lagasse was also promoting a book. I arranged with a nearby IHOP for all of us to show up and have Emeril surprise some patrons. He added some "Bam" to their breakfasts while broadcasting live.

Before Julia Child's visit, I thought about what would be the most intimidating thing when meeting a famous chef. She would be promoting a new "Baking with Julia" cookbook. I challenged Mark and Brian to each choose a page at random. They had to prepare the dishes at home and serve them to Julia the next morning. Either the food tasted good or Julia played along. She was nothing but gracious to us all.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

it's Harry Potter day

When Jo Rowling made up a birthday for Harry Potter, she gave him one that would be easy to remember, her own. Happy birthday to them both!

On the night before "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" opened, I had great fun at the Einstein Simplified show. In one improv game, I played a video store clerk who was overly excited about the new film. Since today is a Harry Potter day of sorts, here is the video of that scene. The first time you watch, try skipping past the first 2 minutes and 17 seconds. During that time, the audience suggests three movies while I am outside in isolation. If you start watching when I re-enter the room, you can try to guess what the customers want to rent before I do.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A recent movie reminded me of the trip that is responsible for my quest to visit all fifty states. My wife and I saw "The Proposal" after it had been out for a couple of weeks. I really liked it and was pleasantly surprised that the trailer didn't give too much away. Most of the film is set in Sitka, Alaska, although the credits indicate that it was actually filmed in Massachusetts. The beautiful mountains in the background were added by a special effects company in Boston.

When my mother and my sister invited me to meet them in Anchorage, I had nothing but time on my hands. The Comedy World Radio Network had gone bankrupt and I had not yet landed my first job in Knoxville. I arranged my flights from Burbank to Anchorage with a 24 hour layover in Seattle so I could visit my friend Bean and his wife Donna.

My mother had a Sony Mavica camera at the time. Before the trip, I bought a package of 3.5 inch disks to use as "film" in case I saw a moose. The only moose I saw was a baby at the Big Game Alaska Wildlife Center, which now has the more politically correct name Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. I remember buying two Christmas ornaments in their gift shop.

We saw some animals in their natural habitat during a wildlife cruise through the Kenai Fjords. The ship sailed past some cool-looking glaciers, pardon the pun, and a Dall's porpoise swam alongside.

The best part of the vacation was a Denali (that's Mt. McKinley to the non-Alaskans) "flightseeing trip" aboard a Talkeetna Air Taxi. The little Cessna landed on a glacier with a good view of the mountain. We got out of the plane and walked around. I used the opportunity to eat the "portable birthday cake" that my wife and kids had put in my luggage.

I didn't know it at the time, but on the way to Talkeetna, we passed right by Wasilla. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see Russia from there, no matter what Tina Fey says.

By the time I got home, I had been to 25 states, including the two hardest-to-reach ones. I set a personal goal to visit the rest within ten years. When my wife and kids were ready to move from California to Tennessee, we routed our trip mostly along I-70 instead of I-40 so I could add Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky to my list. As you probably know, my current tally is 43 down, 7 to go.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

dot comedy

The guest on "Fresh Air" this afternoon was Judd Apatow, the writer and director of "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." His new movie has an Internet component that piqued my interest.

Terry Gross and Apatow talked about the fictional websites that were built for the characters in "Funny People." The site for George Simmons has well-made clips from parodies of cheesy movies. Be sure to watch "Merman" and "Re-Do." They also played a clip from a fake sitcom called "Yo Teach!" It was uncomfortably bad on purpose, which made it hysterical.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

do you believe in magic?

To get ready for Harry Potter Day, my wife and son planned ahead. On our road trip two years ago, it didn't occur to us to buy a CD copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" until we got to a small town in Illinois. This year they went to the Knox County Public Library and reserved an audio copy of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

We listened to Jim Dale's narration as we drove to Maine and back. I have the same complaint with the sixth book as I did with the seventh about the way Dale voices female characters, especially Ginny, Luna and Hermione. The only woman's voice he gets right is Professor McGonagall. As I heard the climactic scene, I couldn't help but think of the fake ending I wrote four years ago.

The detailed plot was fresh in my mind as we watched the excellent movie adaptation this afternoon. I was okay with the stuff they had to leave out. Both Harry and Hermione are dealing with their changing feelings toward a Weasley. It was fairly true to the book although there are brief scenes I might not have understood had I not read the novel. Specifically, I thought they did not do a good job of explaining the Room of Requirement. Of course most of the moviegoers will have seen "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which explained the Room fully.

A listener called to challenge something I said on the air this morning. I mentioned that there were two more Harry Potter movies to come. She said there was only one film left. I tried to get her to understand that one book was being divided into two movies but she kept insisting that it was one movie divided into two parts. I finally won the argument when I asked her if she thought she could see both parts with one ticket or if they would make her buy tickets to two movies.

I saw an awkward live segment at the end of the late local news Tuesday night. The reporter interviewed fans who could not get tickets to one of the sold-out midnight shows at the Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18. Most were young and dressed in costume and one guy was dressed as Dumbledore. The awkward part came when the reporter didn't know how to react to a girl who said she didn't even like Harry Potter. Meanwhile, I heard that some local girls got ready for the movie by buying used neckties from Sacred Heart Cathedral School, which has the same colors as Gryffindor House.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

east ender

Because we had a reservation, we had to make sure we got from Newport to New London in time to catch the 6:00 p.m. Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point. The boat was almost exactly the same as the ferry we took from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson on our road trip two years ago. This time we also took two smaller ferries to get us from Greenport to Shelter Island to North Haven. From there, it's a short drive to Sag Harbor and Noyac.

Once we were on Long Island, I tuned the car radio to the so-bad-it’s-good WLNG, which does stream online if you want to hear it for yourself. Rusty Potz would ask a TV trivia question, start a song and then interrupt the song a moment later to say "we have a winner, no more calls please."

I was saddened to hear of the passing of 92.1 WLNG's legendary Paul Sidney. Somehow I find it appropriate that he died on April Fool's Day. Or, depending on who you ask, April 2, which was the 92nd day of the year.

When my wife and I honeymooned in the Hamptons, Paul gave us a tour of Broadcast House and then gave us a ride in their newest mobile unit. He drove us to Main Street in Sag Harbor where Alan Alda was filming a scene from "Sweet Liberty." I had a chance to tell Alda that my father knew him when they were both enrolled at Fordham University. In subsequent years, we would vacation in the Hamptons and go see Paul at the Southampton Fourth of July parade. Long Island won't be the same without him.

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